Thursday, April 14, 2011

Firming up your manuscript

Come on writers, work that keyboard, tighten those words, firm up your plot, edit hard or go home!

I'm not a big fan of editing. Give me someone else's work and I can do it - hey that's part of my day job after all. But when I re-read my own work my mind often reads what should be there rather than what is there.

Recently, I wrote a short story for a competition that was capped at 3,000 words. I decided to use a concept I already had for a novel and miniaturize it. That meant take the core concept, creating a couple of scenes to explain the plot (personifying a concept - a bit like Terry Pratchett by darker and less humorous) and tying up the conclusion.

I sent it off to my Beta and got some great notes, made her recommended changes and squeezed in just under 3,000 words. I was over the moon, until a thought hit me. Did she like the ending? She had commented on another short story that it felt like the end of a chapter not the end of a short story.

So I asked and she emailed back exactly that. D'oh! She thought there was more to come. So I called her and we thrashed it out. Of course she won - how can I argue with a former Uni Lit Lecturer? Besides, she was right.

Disappointed that I hadn't gotten it right first time, I wrote more, about another 400 words and sent it back. Yep, my Beta confirmed I now had a workable ending - and 400 words too many. So I called again and was told to cut one of two scenes. But I didn't want to - I loved them both.

So I was determined to cut more than 10% of my story without cutting plot content. I was mercilessly on the look out for superfluous words. And I found them! 400 of them!

I rearranged sentences more economically, I cut as many 'thats' and 'ands' I could, I culled unnecessary sentences - the frill bits.

At the end of it when I got to the word count I felt triumphant, then a bit crappy about how sloppy my writing was. But adhering to a word count helped me firm up my manuscript.

I'm thinking I might impose a culling goal on myself from now on so I can get in and edit with focus.

So how do you get motivated to editor or writing, or is it something that comes naturally to you?

BTW readers - I promise this post was not just an excuse to post shirtless men =P

1 comment:

  1. I definitely do a lot of sentence restructuring when I do my edits. I slice out any extra words, any words that're repeated too close together (unless it's intentional).

    I remember reading somewhere how you can go through every single page in your story/MS and cut out, easily, 20 words here and there, and I realized the person who said it was right.